Saturday, January 14, 2012

BT's Single Oak Project Suffers From 'Holy Grail' Tag.

On his Sour Mash Manifesto blog this past Wednesday, Jason Pyle worried that his whiskey geek card might be taken away because he can't get behind the Buffalo Trace (BT) Single Oak Bourbon Project.

Jason's whiskey cred is secure. He may be overly fond of white and under-aged craft whiskeys, but on the Single Oak thing he's not wrong.

Reading over the piece and its comments, it becomes clear that the problem isn't the Single Oak Project per se, it is the whole 'search for the Holy Grail' overlay, in which BT says Single Oak is part of its quest to make the perfect bourbon.

Holy Grail has become a double-edged sword for BT. The theme is a winner with the general press. It piques their interest and that allows BT to reach a wider audience. But it turns off the whiskey geek community because it glorifies something we reject. We're not in this to find one whiskey to drink for the rest of our lives. We want to have as many good but different whiskey experiences as possible. Sampling the Single Oak bourbons is a good and different whiskey experience, one Jason and many others will enjoy more if they just forget the 'Holy Grail' nonsense.

BT is okay with that. They have always said 'Holy Grail' is more about a commitment to continuous quality improvement than it is about actually making the ultimate bourbon. Taken as a metaphor, it's not nearly so irritating and distracting. It's also another way BT breaks with conventional whiskey wisdom, as most producers like to claim they achieved perfection a century ago and haven't changed a thing since.

Which is the higher pile of hubris is up to each of us to decide for ourselves, but there is genuine appeal in the idea that the best is yet to come.


William Glen Farmer said...

Mr. Cowdery,

Please consider opening a YouTube channel! Please! Please! Must I beg?

Jason Pyle said...

Chuck, Ha! I didn't realize I was overly fond of white and under aged stuff. ;)

I think your take, Sku's and others are right on - part of their problem was the way this project was "sold" from the start. The whole "holy grail" thing sort of took over.

Broken into it's simplest form, BT's quest for knowledge, to understand what exactly each component of the wood and recipes does to flavor, is one that will certainly equip them with much needed info to craft better whiskey. And consumers will ultimately win because of it.

However, I suppose my take, which in retrospect wasn't as clearly made as I would have liked, has more to do with how they've isolated these components. If they find tight grain, top wood wheaters are the most consistent what chance do they have to execute on it without a high price tag? Without backwards integration and purchasing a cooperage, how would they be able to accomplish this?

I applaud their effort regardless.

Anonymous said...

If they honestly want my opinion, they should make it vastly more affordable for me to provide it.

This is a cost prohibitive indulgence to all but those with unlimited resources or free samples.

I LOVE the idea, honestly. It's a great concept and I fully support the intent, but frankly the execution falls terribly flat in my humble opinion.